Free speech for gun extremist, not for student?

Editors passionately defend the Freedom of Incendiary Speech of a right-wing extremist – but not a peep about a student arrested for a tweet.

The editorial board of the Northwest Arkansas Times today announced that “Free Speech Wins in GOP controversy”, referring to the brouhaha around Benton County Republican Chris Nogy who had made noises about shooting lawmakers who voted for laws that he disagrees with. Nogy wrote on the county GOP web site:

“The 2nd amendment means nothing unless those in power believe you would have no problem simply walking up and shooting them if they got too far out of line and stopped responding as representatives.”

While he personally thinks that “a gun is quicker and more merciful” than political and civic action, he regretfully concluded that “we can’t shoot them” [lawmakers]. He later issued a non-apology, stating that he “most likely won’t try to kill them [legislators] or harm their families”, and has since resigned from his committee post. The State Police had looked into the matter and concluded that he didn’t really mean to shoot anybody so his remarks weren’t actual threats and so no criminal charges were in order. The NWA Times editors agree:

“we’re glad to see free speech at work, just as the Constitution guarantees. Nogy got to express his ridiculous notion about a political party exterminating its traitors, while others fairly had the opportunity to speak out against an ill-conceived, poorly executed advocacy of political retribution. That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen. Nogy isn’t in danger of going to jail or being executed for speaking his mind.”

Fair enough. One has to wonder though why there wasn’t the slightest peep from any journalist, politician, or other advocate of Freedom of Speech when recently a UA student was arrested after a tweet that seems far less dangerous than Nogy’s figures of speech. On April 12, a University building was evacuated and student Carlos Martinez was arrested and charged with “terroristic threatening” after he had tweeted:

“UPDATE: Someone screams over the mezzanine and shoots all the forth year.”

This blogger has no idea what Martinez was trying to express in this message but it doesn’t appear to be a threat. At worst, it might have been intended to create a false alarm (as it did). Authorities nowadays understandably take any hint of danger in connection with schools seriously. But students still have First Amendment rights or have they? In the Nogy case, the police investigated whether there had been an intent to threaten and concluded there was none. In the Martinez case, the police arrested and the prosecutor charged without asking any questions.

None of the media outlets reporting on the incident (here, here, here and here) offered any comment on possible Free Speech implications of a hefty criminal charge based solely on a twitter message. No passionate editorials were written. There was also no hint that any of the journalists attempted to contact Martinez. Indeed all reporting appears to have consisted in merely copying the police press release.

Apparently, when it comes to exercising Free Speech, it helps to be a firebrand political extremist rather than an unknown – and probably harmless – student.

Does Exxon control the Mayflower oil spill coverage?

It is during crises, like Exxon Mobil‘s Mayflower oil spill disaster, that press freedom matters most and we can really judge whether the media are doing their job. As critics have pointed out from the beginning, many media outlets have effectively let Exxon dictate their coverage. As Arkansas Blog now reports, Little Rock TV stations have gone a step further in their submission to the corporate giant: Under pressure from Exxon, Arkansas ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates have declined to air a paid advertisement (view on youtube) critical of Exxon. Exxon – get this – has threatened legal action against the stations. Exxon executives, who should probably be on trial for criminal negligence, are dictating what can and cannot be said in public about them in Arkansas. That is the extent of press freedom and freedom of speech in this state.

“Amidst reports of media intimidation at the site of the Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands oil spill, ExxonMobil has now taken to bullying local Little Rock television stations into canceling the airing of a satirical but cutting advertisement critical of their business practices… The move by Exxon marks the latest in a series of reported strong-arm tactics undertaken by Exxon to censor reporting in the days following the Mayflower tar sands oil spill.” (Statement from the ad organizers)

The news media and the Mayflower EXXON oil spill disaster

Former Little Rock news Anchor Ron Gardner has posted a passionate take-down (via arkansastvnewswatch) of the news media’s, especially the Little Rock TV news programs’ treatment of the oil spill disaster in Mayflower.

“What the local broadcasters have done, for the most part, is use statements from the EXXON spokesperson and in one case, an attempt to determine whether Sen. Jason Rapert and some others are totally in the pockets of big oil companies, simply let Rapert totally off the hook…
Jesus Christ. Everybody involved in putting that sort of shit on the air should be fired…
It’s shameful, disgusting and depressing and bodes ill for the future of our country when the local media does such a piss poor job of educating the people about issues, who their politicians are, what is happening behind the closed doors in the capital building, etc. etc. etc. …”

The Arkansas-Democrat Gazette, to its credit, in its April, 3 edition published a well-written column , (paywall) about he pipeline burst and its implications for the Keystone XL pipeline: “Oil spill highlights pipeline perils“, by Sam Lane, the director of ArkansasFracking.org.

Meanwhile, Huffington Post reports that a twitter account mocking Exxon and its handling of the oil spill disaster was suspended by the corporation (twitter corp., that is). I guess that’s how social media are supposed to be furthering democracy and empowerment and citizen journalism and saving the world – by caving in to any bully who comes along, whether China or Exxon. Thanks, Twitter, for making that clear.

Check out the coverage at Arkansas Blog.